Friday, January 19, 2007

From the "Frontier the Yankee Made"

Henry Shapiro's 1986 book, Appalachia on Our Mind: The Southern Mountains and Mountaineers in the American Consciousness, 1870-1920, discusses how Northern missionaries drew back, in the 1870's and 1880's, from teaching and saving freed slaves in the South, and retreated into the mostly white Southern Appalachians, where education and conversions were less complicated by race relations or Klan violence. Shapiro's style is less compelling than W.J. Cash's The Mind of the South (1941), but it addresses the same issue Cash tackles in this passage:

And in this connection [regarding the way vengeful Reconstruction policies increased white Southern solidarity, hatred of the North, and hatred of blacks] we come upon a figure which deserves some notice. I mean the Yankee schoolma'am who, in such numbers, moved down upon the unfortunate South in the train of the army of occupation, to "educate the black man for his new place in the sun and to furnish an example of Christian love and philanthropy to the benighted native whites." Generally horsefaced, bespectacled, and spare of frame, she was, of course, no proper intellectual, but at best a comic character, at worst a dangerous fool, playing with explosive forces which she did not understand. She had no little part in developing Southern bitterness as a whole and, along with the peripatetic Yankee journalist, contributed much to the growth of hysterical sensibility to criticism. But nowhere was her influence more important than at the point with which we are engaged.

For if she was not an intellectual, the South, with its vague standards in these matters, accepted her as such. It saw her, indeed, as a living epitome of the Yankee mind, identified her essentially with the Northern universities, took her spirit for that of the best intelligence beyond the Potomac, read in the evils springing abundantly from her meddlesome stupidity categorical proof that Northern "theory" was in toto altogether mad. And so she served as a distinct power in bringing Southern fear and hate to explicit focus in the purely ideological field--in setting up as definite a resistance to Yankee thought as to Yankee deeds.

From The Mind of the South, Book II, Chapter 1: "Of the Frontier the Yankee Made" by W. J. Cash

If this connection is valid, the ambivalence and bitterness that some people feel concerning Appalachian identity can be traced to Reconstruction, a policy whose effects historians tend to minimize in the Southern Mountains. James Dickey comes down on the side of the Yankee schoolmarm. Who'd have thought it?

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